Pablo Picasso on being blue: La vie

Ah to be blue. What greater poison is there than the metaphoric misfortune of heartache and its ability to conjure up something so authentic and affecting? To wander about with the weight of the world on your shoulders, to feel adrift of time, absolutely forlorn, for whatever reason, has its artistic merits.
It’s an unfortunate thing to have to endure for it means that one must experience pitiful melancholy, but, without it, have we truly ever lived? To not feel crushed is to not be human.
Pablo Picasso effaced himself and his mourning through his painting, creating a body of work that was defined by the sombreness of various shades of blue. Most, if not all works of art executed during this difficult time are intimate studies of disconsolation, articulating feelings that can never really be put into words. Better a colour to say how one feels than attempt to imagine how best to describe dejection in words.
A new exhibition at the Cleveland Museum of Art has decided to concentrate on one of Picasso’s most powerful renderings during this phase, known as La Vie (1903). It is another portrait of his friend Carles Casagemas, whose suicide led to Picasso’s extended depression.
What makes this painting impressive is that it is a lot more allegorical than some of the other blue pieces. Critics tend to agree that the central concept of the work is the cyclical theme of life: one death for a life, one life for a death, and so on, until the end of days.
It is also suggestive of that great preoccupation of many artists – the fatal woman who has the ability to destroy and enliven the hearts of men, unforgettable and unconquerable. Pure poetry some might say.
In the painting therefore, we see Germaine Pichot draped over Casagemas. She was the love of his life and the reason for his death, for, unable to secure her affection wholeheartedly, he sought recourse in ending his life. Better not to feel than not to be loved.
The art historian John Richardson has described it as Picasso’s “first exorcism”, pointing to the fact that it was one of those rare works of the Spanish artist that underwent deep reflection and reworking.
It was as if what had started off as a vehicle for easing his suffering took on a life of its own, and came to also be a deeper, more personal statement about just how tough life can be. Yet, we are still unable to know absolutely what Picasso was trying to say.
But, we don’t need to understand. A painting such as this doesn’t have to be analysed so deeply and then explained in words. We can simply look at it and feel. And though that may be anguish, it is part of the human experience and defines us.
Picasso and the Mysteries of Life: Deconstructing La Vie at the Cleveland Museum of Art runs until April 21st 2013.
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